In Brief

Cut tuition fees and bring back grants, says official review

Augar inquiry commissioned by Theresa May tries to tackle concerns about skills gaps

University fees in England should be cut and maintenance grants reintroduced for poorer students, according to a far-reaching review of higher education funding.

Led by businessman and historian Philip Augar, the independent report - published today - recommended that tuition fees are cut from £9,250 to £7,500 and the repayment period for student loans should be stretched from 30 to 40 years.

Maintenance grants, which were scrapped three years ago, should be reinstated for the lowest-income families, offering at least £3,000 a year, said Augar.

The Daily Telegraph says the review was commissioned by Prime Minister Theresa May “after it was felt that the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s pledge to abolish tuition fees won support from young voters in the last general election”.

However, the BBC says it threatened to be “a significant piece of unfinished political business delayed by the Brexit process”.

The Times says the review “aims to ease financial pressures on young people and help to divert them from university degrees to vocational and technical courses”.

It also aimed to tackle concerns about skills gaps. Augar called for capital investment in further education colleges offering technical and vocational training “to meet the changing needs of the British economy”, says the Financial Times.

To offset the loss from reduced fees, the report says government should provide a one-off investment of £1bn, as well as an additional payment of between £300m and £600m a year, with the aim of focusing on quality degrees, reports the FT.

“Post-18 education in England is a story of both care and neglect, depending on whether students are amongst the 50 per cent of young people who participate in higher education or the rest. The panel believes that this disparity simply has to be addressed,” said Augar.

May is expected to urge her successor to implement the recommendations, saying later today: “My view is very clear: removing maintenance grants from the least well-off students has not worked. I believe it is time to bring them back.”

The Treasury has put the cost of Augar’s reforms at a much higher figure of £6bn, with some Tories fearing a bidding war among government departments.

Alistair Jarvis, chief executive of Universities UK, said: “The fee-level recommendations may look good for students, but unless the government gives a cast-iron guarantee on full replacement funding, it could prove to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

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